Put very, very simply, the vol-au-vent, as Oxford Reference defines, is just a filled puff pastry. The puff pastry filling is usually savory, with an accompanying sauce, and the vol-au-vent might be served either hot or chilled. For anyone who’s ever eaten or made vol-au-vent before, however, you know that this tasty little bite is more complex than meets the eye.
Vol-au-vent is nothing new. Frederick Vine was writing about the French snack in his book “Savoury Pastry: Savory Dish and Raised Pies, Pork Pies, Patties, Vol-au-vents, Mincemeats and Pies, and Miscellaneous Savory Pastries,” published in 1900. In the book, Vine notes that making a vol-au-vent requires patience and ingenuity and that the fillings can be quite expensive. His recipes call for fillings made from lobster, oysters, mushrooms, sweetbreads, and truffles, among other ingredients. However, you can enjoy a taste of this French classic at a relatively low cost and with as little work as popping something in the microwave and spooning it into premade pastry shells. You can now buy frozen vol-au-vent filling, like this option from Plaisirs Gastronomiques, which is filled with vegetables and chicken. Think of it as a smaller, more snack-ready chicken pot pie.